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    Closing Scenes of Babylon’s History - Celebration of the Conquest of Judea - The Sacred Vessels Desecrated - God Interferes with the Revelry - The Phantom Hand - Change of Scene - Daniel Called - The Lesson to the King - The Writing Interpreted - The Fulfilment Follows - Edwin Arnold’s Prize Poem

    VERSE 1. Belshazzar the king made a great feast to a thousand of his lords, and drank wine before the thousand.”DAR1909 102.1

    The chief feature of interest pertaining to this chapter is the fact that it describes the closing scenes of the Babylonish empire, the transition from the gold to the silver of the great image of chapter 2, and from the lion to the bear of Daniel’s vision in chapter 7. This feast is supposed by some to have been a stated annual festival in honor of one of their deities. On this account, Cyrus, who was then besieging Babylon, learned of its approach, and knew when to lay his plans for the overthrow of the city. Our translation reads that Belshazzar, having invited a thousand of his lords, drank before the thousand. Some translate it “drank against the thousand,” showing that whatever other propensities he may have had, he was at least an enormous drinker.DAR1909 102.2

    VERSE 2. Belshazzar, whiles he tasted the wine, commanded to bring the golden and silver vessels which his father Nebuchadnezzar had taken out of the temple which was in Jerusalem; that the king, and his princes, his wives, and his concubines, might drink therein. 3. Then they brought the golden vessels that were taken out of the temple of the house of God which was in Jerusalem; and the king, and his princes, his wives, and his concubines, drank in them. 4. They drank wine, and praised the gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, of iron, of wood, and of stone.”DAR1909 102.3

    That this festival had some reference to former victories over the Jews may be inferred from the fact that the king, when he began to be heated with his wine, called for the sacred vessels which had been taken from Jerusalem. It would be most likely that, lost to a sense of all sacred things, he would use them to celebrate the victory by which they were obtained. No other king, probably, had carried his impiety to such a height as this. And while they drank wine from vessels dedicated to the true God, they praised their gods of gold, silver, brass, iron, wood, and stone. Perhaps, as noticed on chapter 3:29, they celebrated the superior power of their gods over the God of the Jews, from whose vessel they now drank to their heathen deities.DAR1909 103.1

    VERSE 5. In the same hour came forth fingers of a man’s hand, and wrote over against the candlestick upon the plaster of the wall of the king’s palace; and the king saw the part of the hand that wrote. 6. Then the king’s countenance was changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote one against the another. 7. The king cried aloud to bring in the astrologers, the Chaldeans, and the soothsayers. And the king spake, and said to the wise men of Babylon, Whosoever shall read this writing, and show me the interpretation thereof, shall be clothed with scarlet, and have a chain of gold about his neck, and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom. 8. Then came in all the king’s wise men: but they could not read the writing, nor make known to the king the interpretation thereof. 9. Then was the king Belshazzar greatly troubled, and his countenance was changed in him, and his lords were astonied.”DAR1909 103.2

    No flashes of supernatural light, nor deafening peals of thunder announce the interference of God in their impious revelries. A hand silently appeared, tracing mystic characters upon the wall. It wrote over against the candlestick. In the light of their own lamp they saw it. Terror seized upon the king; for his conscience accused him. Although he could not read the writing, he knew it was no message of peace and blessing that was traced in glittering characters upon his palace wall. And the description the prophet gives of the effect of the king’s fear cannot be excelled in any particular. The king’s countenance changed, his heart failed him, pain seized upon him, and so violent was his trembling that his knees smote one against another. He forgot his boasting and revelry; he forgot his dignity; and he cried aloud for his astrologers and soothsayers to solve the meaning of the mysterious inscription.DAR1909 103.3

    VERSE 10. Now the queen by reason of the words of the king and his lords came into the banquet house: and the queen spake and said, O king, live forever; let not thy thoughts trouble thee, nor let thy countenance be changed. 11. There is a man in thy kingdom, in whom is the spirit of the holy gods; and in the days of thy father light and understanding and wisdom, like the wisdom of the gods, was found in him; whom the king Nebuchadnezzar thy father, the king, I say, thy father, made master of the magicians, astrologers, Chaldeans, and soothsayers; 12. Forasmuch as an excellent spirit, and knowledge, and understanding, interpreting of dreams, and showing of hard sentences, and dissolving of doubts, were found in the same Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar: now let Daniel be called, and he will show the interpretation. 13. Then was Daniel brought in before the king. And the king spake and said unto Daniel, Art thou that Daniel, which art of the children of the captivity of Judah, whom the king my father brought out of Jewry? 14. I have even heard of thee, that the spirit of the gods is in thee, and that light and understanding and excellent wisdom is found in thee. 15. And now the wise men, the astrologers, have been brought in before me, that they should read this writing, and make known unto me the interpretation thereof: but they could not show the interpretation of the thing. 16. And I have heard of thee, that thou canst make interpretations, and dissolve doubts: now if thou canst read the writing, and make known to me the interpretation thereof, thou shalt be clothed with scarlet, and have a chain of gold about thy neck, and shalt be the third ruler in the kingdom.”DAR1909 104.1

    It appears from the circumstance here narrated, that the fact that Daniel was a prophet of God had by some means been lost sight of at the court and palace. This was doubtless owing to his having been absent at Shushan, in the province of Elam, as narrated in chapter 8:1, 2, 27, whither he had been sent to attend to the business of the kingdom there. The country being swept by the Persian army would compel his return to Babylon at this time. The queen, who came in and PICTURE made known to the king that there was such a person to whom appeal could be made for the knowledge in supernatural things, is supposed to have been the queen mother, the daughter of Nebuchadnezzar, in whose memory the wonderful part Daniel had acted in her father’s reign would still be fresh and vivid. Nebuchadnezzar is here called Belshazzar’s father, according to the then common custom of calling any paternal ancestor father and any male descendant son. Nebuchadnezzar was in reality his grandfather. The king inquired of Daniel, when he came in, if he was of the children of the captivity of Judah. Thus it seems to have been ordered, that while they were holding impious revelry in honor of their false gods, a servant of the true God, and one whom they were holding in captivity, was called in to pronounce the merited judgment upon their wicked course.DAR1909 104.2

    VERSE 17. Then Daniel answered and said before the king, Let thy gifts be to thyself, and give thy rewards to another; yet I will read the writing unto the king, and make known to him the interpretation. 18. O thou king, the most high God gave Nebuchadnezzar thy father a kingdom, and majesty, and glory, and honor; 19. And for the majesty that he gave him, all peoples, nations, and languages, trembled and feared before him: whom he would he slew; and whom he would he kept alive; and whom he would he set up; and whom he would he put down. 20. But when his heart was lifted up, and his mind hardened in pride, he was deposed from his kingly throne, and they took his glory from him: 21. And he was driven from the sons of men; and his heart was made like the beasts, and his dwelling was with the wild asses: they fed him with grass like oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven; till he knew that the most high God ruled in the kingdom of men, and that he appointeth over it whomsoever he will. 22. And thou his son, O Belshazzar, hast not humbled thine heart, though thou knewest all this; 23. But hast lifted up thyself against the Lord of heaven; and they have brought the vessels of his house before thee, and thou, and thy lords, thy wives, and thy concubines, have drunk wine in them; and thou hast praised the gods of silver, and gold, of brass, iron, wood, and stone, which see not, nor hear, nor know: and the God in whose hand thy breath is, and whose are all thy ways, hast thou not glorified: 24. Then was the part of the hand sent from him; and this writing was written.”DAR1909 106.1

    Daniel first of all disclaims the idea of being influenced by such motives as governed the soothsayers and astrologers. He says, Let thy rewards be to another. He wishes it distinctly understood that he does not enter upon the work of interpreting this matter on account of the offer of gifts and rewards. He then rehearses the experience of the king’s grandfather, Nebuchadnezzar, as set forth in the preceding chapter. He told the king that though he knew all this, yet he had not humbled his heart, but had lifted up himself against the God of heaven, and even carried his impiety so far as to profane his sacred vessels, praising the senseless gods of men’s making, and failing to glorify the God in whose hand his breath was. For this reason, he tells him, it is, that the hands has been sent forth from that God whom he had daringly and insultingly challenged, to trace those characters of fearful, though hidden import. He then proceeds to explain the writing.DAR1909 106.2

    VERSE 25. And this is the writing that was written, MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN. 26. This is the interpretation of the thing: MENE; God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it. 27. TEKEL; Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting. 28. PERES; Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians. 29. Then commanded Belshazzar, and they clothed Daniel with scarlet, and put a chain of gold about his neck, and made a proclamation concerning him, that he should be the third ruler in the kingdom.”DAR1909 107.1

    It is not known in what language this inscription was written. If it had been in Chaldaic, the king’s wise men would have been able to read it. Dr. Clarke conjectures that it was written in Samaritan, the true Hebrew, a language with which Daniel was familiar, as it was the character used by the Jews previous to the Babylonish captivity. It seems much more likely that it was a character strange to all the parties, and that it was specially made known to Daniel by the Spirit of the Lord.DAR1909 107.2

    In this inscription each words stands for a short sentence. Mene, numbered; Tekel, weighed; Upharsin, from the root peres, divided. God, whom thou hast defied, has thy kingdom in his own hands, and has numbered its days and finished its course just at the time thou thoughtest it at the height of its prosperity. Thou, who hast lifted up thy heart in pride, as the great one of the earth, art weighed, and found lighter than vanity. Thy kingdom, which thou didst dream was to stand forever, is divided between the foes already waiting at thy gates. Notwithstanding this terrible denunciation, Belshazzar did not forget his promise, but had Daniel at once invested with the scarlet robe and chain of gold, and proclaimed him third ruler in the kingdom. This Daniel accepted, probably with a view to being better prepared to look after the interests of his people during the transition to the succeeding kingdom.DAR1909 107.3

    VERSE 30. In that night was Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans slain. 31. And Darius the Median took the kingdom, being about threescore and two years old.”DAR1909 108.1

    The scene here so briefly mentioned is described in remarks on chapter 2, verse 39. While Belshazzar was indulging in his presumptuous revelry, while the angel’s hand was tracing the doom of the empire on the walls of the palace, while Daniel was making known the fearful import of the heavenly writing, the Persian soldiery, through the emptied channel of the Euphrates, had made their way into the heart of the city, and were speeding forward with drawn swords to the palace of the king. Scarcely can it be said that they surprised him, for God had just forewarned him of his doom. But they found him and slew him; and with him the empire of Babylon ceased to be.DAR1909 108.2

    As a fitting conclusion to this chapter, we give the following beautiful poetic description of Belshazzar’s feast, from the pen of Edwin Arnold, author of “The Light of Asia.” It was written in 1852, and obtained the Newdegate prize for an English poem on the Feast of Belshazzar, at the University College, Oxford: -DAR1909 108.3

    Not by one portal, or one path alone,
    God’s holy messages to men are known;
    Waiting the glances of his awful eyes,
    Silver-winged seraphs do him embassies;
    And stars, interpreting his high behest,
    Guide the lone feet and glad the falling breast;
    The rolling thunder and the raging sea
    Speak the stern purpose of the Deity,
    And storms beneath and rainbow hues above
    Herald his anger or proclaim his love;
    The still small voices of the summer day,
    The red sirocco, and the breath of May,
    DAR1909 108.4

    The lingering harmony in ocean shells,
    The fairy music of the meadow bells,
    Earth and void air, water and wasting flame,
    Have words to whisper, tongues to tell, his name.
    DAR1909 109.1

    Once, with no cloak of careful mystery,
    Himself was herald of his own decree;
    The hand that edicts on the marble drew,
    Graved the stern sentence of their scorner too.
    Listen and learn! Tyrants have heard the tale,
    And turned from hearing, terror-struck and pale;
    Spiritless captives, sinking with the chain,
    Have read this page, and taken heart again.
    From sunlight unto starlight, trumpets told
    Her king’s command in Babylon the old;
    From sunlight unto starlight, west and east,
    A thousand satraps girt them for the feast,
    And reined their chargers to the palace hall
    Where king Belshazzar held high festival:
    A pleasant palace under pleasant skies,
    With cloistered courts and gilded galleries,
    And gay kiosk and painted balustrade
    For winter terraces and summer shade;
    By court and terrace, minaret and dome,
    Euphrates, rushing from his mountain home,
    Rested his rage and curbed his crested pride
    To belt that palace with his bluest tide;
    Broad-fronted bulls with chiseled feathers barred,
    In silent vigil keeping watch and ward,
    Giants of granite, wrought by cunning hand,
    Guard in the gate and frown upon the land.
    DAR1909 109.2

    Not summer’s glow nor yellow autumn’s glare
    Pierced the broad tamarisks that blossomed there;
    The moonbeams, darting through their leafy screen,
    Lost half their silver in the softened green,
    And fell with lessened luster, broken light,
    Tracing quaint arabesque of dark and white,
    Or dimly tinting on the graven stones
    The pictured annals of Chaldean thrones.
    There, from the rising to the setting day,
    Birds of bright feathers sang the light away,
    And fountain waters on the palace floor
    Made even answer to the river’s roar,
    Rising in silver from the crystal well,
    And breaking into spangles as they fell,
    Though now ye heard them not - for far along
    Rang the broad chorus of the banquet song,
    And sounds as gentle, echoes soft as these,
    Died out of hearing from the revelries.
    DAR1909 109.3

    High on a throne of ivory and gold,
    From crown to footstool clad in purple fold,
    Lord of the East from sea to distant sea,
    The king Belshazzar feasteth royally -
    And not that dreamer in the desert cave
    Peopled his paradise with pomp as brave;
    Vessels of silver, cups of crusted gold,
    Blush with a brighter red than all they hold;
    Pendulous lamps, like planets of the night,
    Flung on the diadems a fragrant light,
    Or, slowly swinging in the midnight sky,
    Gilded the ripples as they glided by.
    And sweet and sweeter rose the cittern’s ring,
    Soft as the beating of a seraph’s wing;
    And swift and swifter in the measured dance
    The tresses gather and the sandals glance;
    And bright and brighter at the festal board
    The flagons bubble, and the wines are poured.
    DAR1909 110.1

    No lack of goodly company was there,
    No lack of laughing eyes to light the cheer;
    From Dara trooped they, from Daremma’s grove,
    “The sons of battle and the moons of love;”- 1Hafiz, the Persian Anacreon.
    From where Arsissa’s silver waters sleep
    To Imla’s marshes and the inland deep,
    From pleasant Calah, and from the Cattacene -
    The horseman’s captain and the harem’s queen.
    It seemed no summer-cloud of passing woe
    Could fling its shadow on so fair a show;
    It seemed the gallant forms that feasted there
    Were all too grand for woe, too great for care; -
    Whence came the anxious eye, the altered tone,
    The dull presentiment no heart would own,
    That ever changed the smiling to a sigh
    Sudden as sea-bird flashing from the sky?
    It is not that they know the spoiler waits,
    Harnessed for battle, at the brazen gates;
    It is not that they hear the watchman’s call
    Mark the slow minutes on the leaguered wall;
    The clash of quivers and the ring of spears
    Make pleasant music in a soldier’s ears,
    And not a scabbard hideth sword to-night
    That hath not glimmered in the front of fight.
    May not the blood of every beating vein
    Have quick foreknowledge of the coming pain,
    Even as the prisoned silver,- 2The quicksilver in the tube of the thermometer. dead and dumb,
    Shrinks at cold winter’s footfall ere he come?
    DAR1909 110.2

    The king hath felt it, and the heart’s unrest
    Heaves the broad purple of his belted breast.
    Sudden he speaks: “What! doth the bearded juice
    Savor like hyssop, that ye scorn its use?
    Wear ye so pitiful and sad a soul,
    That tramp of foemen scares ye from the bowl?
    Think ye the gods of yonder starry floor
    Tremble for terror when the thunders roar?
    Are we not gods? have we not fought with God?
    And shall we shiver at a robber’s nod?
    No; let them batter till the brazen bars
    Ring merry mocking of their idle wars.
    Their fall is fated for to-morrow’s sun;
    The lion rouses when his feast is done.
    Crown me a cup, and fill the bowls we brought
    From Judah’s temple when the fight was fought;
    Drink, till the merry madness fill the soul,
    To Salem’s conqueror in Salem’s bowl;
    Each from the goblet of a god shall sip,
    And Judah’s gold tread heavy on the lip.”- 1“He never drinks But Timon’s silver treads upon his lips.” -Shakespeare, “Titus Andronicus.”
    The last loud answer dies along the line,
    The last light bubble bursts upon the wine,
    His eager lips are on the jeweled brink, -
    Hath the cup poison that he doubts to drink?
    Is there a spell upon the sparkling gold,
    That so his fevered fingers quit their hold?
    Whom sees he where he gazes? what is there?
    Freezing his vision into fearful stare?
    Follow his lifted arm and lighted eye,
    And watch with them the wondrous mystery.
    DAR1909 111.1

    There cometh forth a hand, upon the stone
    Graving the symbols of a speech unknown;
    Fingers like mortal fingers, leaving there
    The blank wall flashing characters of fear;
    And still it glideth silently and slow,
    And still beneath the spectral letters grow;
    Now the scroll endeth; now the seal is set;
    The hand is gone; the record tarries yet.
    As one who waits the warrant of his death,
    With pale lips parted and with bridled breath,
    They watch the sign, and dare not turn to seek
    Their fear reflected in their fellow’s cheek,
    But stand as statues where the life is none,
    Half the jest uttered, half the laughter done,
    DAR1909 111.2

    Half the flask empty, half the flagon poured;
    Each where the phantom found him at the board
    Struck into silence, as December’s arm
    Curbs the quick ripples into crystal calm.
    With wand of ebony and sable stole,
    Chaldea’s wisest scan the spectral scroll.
    Strong in the lessons of a lying art,
    Each comes to gaze, but gazes to depart;
    And still for mystic sign and muttered spell
    The graven letters guard their secret well,
    Gleam they for warning, glare they to condemn,
    God speaketh, but he speaketh not for them.
    DAR1909 112.1

    Oh! ever, when the happy laugh is dumb,
    All the joy gone, and all the anguish come;
    When strong adversity and subtle pain
    Wring the sad soul and rack the throbbing brain;
    When friends once faithful, hearts once all our own,
    Leave us to weep, to bleed and die alone;
    When fears and cares the lonely thought employ,
    And clouds of sorrow hide the sun of joy;
    When weary life, breathing reluctant breath,
    Hath no hope sweeter than the hope of death, -
    Then the best counsel and the last relief,
    To cheer the spirit of to cheat the grief,
    The only calm, the only comfort heard,
    Comes in the music of a woman’s word,
    Like beacon-bell on some wild island shore,
    Silverly ringing in the tempest’s roar;
    Whose sound, borne shipward through the midnight gloom,
    Tells of the path, and turns her from her doom.
    So in the silence of that awful hour,
    When baffled magic mourned its parted power,
    When kings were pale, and satraps shook for fear,
    A woman speaketh, and the wisest hear.
    She, the high daughter of a thousand thrones,
    Telling with trembling lip and timid tones
    Of him, the captive, in the feast forgot,
    Who readeth visions; him whose wondrous lot
    Sends him to lighten doubt and lessen gloom,
    And gaze undazzled on the days to come;
    Daniel, the Hebrew, such his name and race,
    Held by a monarch highest in his grace,
    He may declare - oh! bid them quickly send,
    So may the mystery have happy end.
    DAR1909 112.2

    Calmly and silent as the fair, full moon
    Comes smiling upward in the sky of June,
    DAR1909 112.3

    Fearfully as the troubled clouds of night
    Shrink from before the coming of its light,
    So through the hall the prophet passed along,
    So from before him fell the festal throng.
    By broken wassail-cup, and wine o’erthrown,
    Pressed he still onward for the monarch’s throne;
    His spirit failed him not, his quiet eye
    Lost not its light for earthly majesty;
    His lip was steady and his accent clear -
    “The king hath needed me, and I am here.”
    “Art thou the prophet? Read me yonder scroll,
    Whose undeciphered horror daunts my soul.
    There shall be guerdon for the grateful task,
    Fitted for me to give, for thee to ask, -
    A chain to deck thee, and a robe to grace,
    Thine the third throne, and thou the third in place.”
    He heard, and turned him where the lighted wall
    Dimmed the red torches of the festival,
    Gazed on the sign with steady gaze and set;
    And he who quailed not at a kingly threat
    Bent the true knee and bowed the silver hair,
    For that he knew the King of kings was there;
    Then nerved his soul the sentence to unfold,
    While his tongue trembled at the tale it told.
    And never tongue shall echo tale as strange
    Till that change cometh which shall never change.
    DAR1909 113.1

    “Keep for thyself the guerdon and the gold;
    What God hath graved, God’s prophet must unfold;
    Could not thy father’s crime, thy father’s fate,
    Teach thee the terror thou hast learned too late?
    Hast thou not read the lesson of his life, -
    Who wars with God shall strive a losing strife?
    His was a kingdom mighty as thine own,
    The sword his scepter and the earth his throne;
    The nations trembled when his awful eye
    Gave to them leave to live or doom to die:
    The lord of life, the keeper of the grave,
    His frown could wither and his smile could save.
    Yet, when his heart was hard, his spirit high,
    God drave him from his kingly majesty,
    Far from the brotherhood of fellow-men,
    To seek for dwelling in the desert den;
    Where the wild asses feed and oxen roam,
    He sought his pasture and he made his home;
    And bitter-biting frost and dews of night,
    Schooled him in sorrow till he knew the right, -
    That God is ruler of the rulers still,
    And setteth up the sovereign that he will.
    DAR1909 113.2

    Oh! hadst thou treasured in repentant breast
    His pride and fall, his penitence and rest,
    And bowed submissive to Jehovah’s will,
    Then had thy scepter been a scepter still.
    But thou hast mocked the Majesty of heaven;
    And shamed the vessels to his service given.
    And thou hast fashioned idols of thine own, -
    Idols of gold, of silver, and of stone;
    To them hast bowed the knee, and breathed the breath,
    And they must help thee in the hour of death.
    DAR1909 114.1

    Woe for the sight unseen, the sin forgot!
    God was among ye, and ye knew it not!
    Hear what he sayeth now: ‘Thy race is run,
    Thy years are numbered, and thy days are done;
    Thy soul hath mounted in the scale of fate,
    The Lord hath weighed thee, and thou lackest weight;
    Now in thy palace porch the spoilers stand,
    To seize thy scepter, to divide thy land.’”
    He ended, and his passing foot was heard,
    But none made answer, not a lip was stirred;
    Mute the free tongue, and bent the fearless brow;
    The mystic letters had their meaning now.
    Soon came there other sound, - the clash of steel,
    The heavy ringing of the iron heel,
    The curse in dying, and the cry for life, -
    The bloody voices of the battle strife.
    That night they slew him on his father’s throne,
    The deed unnoticed and the hand unknown:
    Crownless and scepterless Belshazzar lay,
    A robe of purple round a form of clay.
    DAR1909 114.2

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